Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.
Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.
Tag Archives: humility
Bearing of the Cross
My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.
This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.
But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.
My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?
I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.
EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.
Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.
Saint Paul never tramped the byways of Palestine with Jesus, but he knew the Jewish Scriptures – to love the Lord your God with your whole being and your neighbour as yourself. He put it this way:
If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.
You don’t have to be a Christian believer to look to the things of others, to work towards being of one accord with your neighbours. In a diverse society such as the United Kingdom today, that should be obvious. But that sense of solidarity does not predominate in everybody. I feel that it was what Virginia Woolf missed by trying to live the illusion – her own word – that she was somehow superior to others. Vainglory sums it up precisely.
And realising that it was vainglory to affect such superiority – or so I read her ending – she filled her pockets with stones and waded into the river. Woolf was certainly struggling with despair in her last months. The Hamilton Star recently told how researchers from Canada and Brazil created word clouds from her writings in happier times and those last months.
In the cloud created from her final months, the words include: little, miss, war, nothing, never, can’t and don’t. The researchers write that these “negative words” may indicate Woolf’s “thoughts of lack of efficacy, self-criticism, worthlessness, nostalgia, melancholy and mainly hopelessness.”
This is not to deny the mental illness that blighted Virginia Woolf’s life, which surely contributed to her thoughts of melancholy and hopelessness, despite her many privileges. Nor is it possible to compare her suffering with Paul’s time in chains and prison, nor to deny the power of God’s grace to work in her heart. Suicide is an extreme form of repentance, and Woolf was aware, perhaps morbidly aware, of causing suffering to others, and as her last letter shows, she wanted to end that. Let us, for every one who takes their own life,
be … confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.
And let us remember, with thanks, that there is now formal and informal help for those in great distress that was not available to Virginia Woolf.
How Saint Francis converted in Bologna two scholars, who became brothers.
SAINT FRANCIS coming on a time to Bologna, all the people of the city ran together to see him; and so great was the press that scarce with great difficulty could the people reach the square and the square being all full of men and of women and of scholars, Saint Francis stood high up m the midst of them and began to preach whatsoever the Holy Spirit taught him; and preached so marvellously that it seemed rather that an angel was preaching than a man: and his celestial words appeared even as sharp arrows piercing the hearts of them that heard him in such sort, that in that preaching a great multitude of men and women were converted into penitence. Among the which were two students, nobly born, from Ancona;and the one was named Pellegrino and the other Rinieri; the which twain by divine inspiration touched in the heart by the said preaching, came to Saint Francis saying that they wished wholly to abandon the world and be of the number of his brethren.
Samt Francis, knowing by revelation that they were sent of God, and that in the Order they would lead a holy life, and noting their great fervour, received them joyfully, saying: “Do thou, Pellegrino, live in the Order the life of humility, and thou, Brother Rinieri, serve the brethren”; and even so it was; for Brother Pellegrino wished not to live as a priest but as a lay brother, albeit he was a great scholar and right learned in the canon law; through the which humility he attained unto such great perfection of virtue, that Brother Bernard, the first-born of Saint Francis, said of him that he was one of the most perfect brothers in the world.
And at the last, the said Brother Pellegrino, full of virtue, passed from this miserable life unto the life of the blessed, and wrought many miracles before his death and thereafter. And the said Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. Being afterwards made minister of the Province of the March of Ancona, he ruled it for a long time with the utmost peace and discretion.
Photograph: Christina Chase
Scaffolding at the gate, stage left in this picture, barriers, holes and diggers across the foreground, although only the digger operator is visible, this picture says beware of the workers!
This shows part of the precincts, taken from the main Galilee door into Canterbury Cathedral a short while ago. There has also been scaffolding around the building behind us while the roof was being rebuilt. All a terrible nuisance and not especially photogenic. But necessary.
There are saints like that who don’t necessarily get noticed until they get in the way, who would not want to be noticed, and who will never be considered for canonisation. Fair play to Canterbury Cathedral though: the hoardings off camera to the left and right carry photos and stories of some of these back-room girls and boys that the visitor rarely sees. All part of maintaining the building, but also of enabling the cathedral community to proclaim the Good News effectively.
Let us thank God for all saints those who have touched our lives without our noticing, and let’s pray that we may be more aware of them in future.
For all the saints who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Bishop William W How
We start from the last paragraph of yesterday’s post.
The youth saw before him as it were a countless multitude of saints, like a procession, two and two, clad in beauteous robes of precious stuffs, and their faces and their hands shone like the sun, and they marched to the songs and chants of angels. Among these saints were twain more nobly clad and adorned than all the rest; and they were wrapt around with so much brightness that they wrought exceeding great amazement in whoso looked on them; and nigh to the end of the procession he saw one adorned with great glory that he seemed a new-made knight, more honoured than they all. The youth beholding the vision aforesaid, marvelled exceedingly and knew not what this procession might portend, and dared not ask, but stood all mazed for very sweetness.
Howbeit when all the procession had passed by, he took courage and ran after the last of them, and with great fear asked them, saying:
“Dear friends, I pray you of your good pleasure to tell me who are these folk so wonderful that go in this worshipful procession.”
They made answer: “Know, little son, that we be all Brothers Minor coming from the glory of paradise.”
And again he asked : “Who be those twain that shine more than the others ? They answered him: “These are Saint Francis and Saint Antony: and this last one that thou seest so honoured is a holy brother who died of late: the which, for that valiantly he fought against temptations, and persevered even unto the end, we are leading in triumph to the glory of paradise, and these robes of precious stuffs so beautiful, that we wear, have been given us by God in lieu of the rough tunics that we wore with patience in the religious life; and the glorious brightness that thou seest in us is given us of God for the humility and patience, and for the holy poverty and obedience and chastity, that we kept even unto the end. Wherefore, little son, let it not seem a hard matter to thee to wear the sackcloth of religion that beareth such good fruit ; seeing that, if with the sackcloth of Saint Francis for the love of Christ thou despise the world, and mortify the fiesh, and strive valiantly against the evil one, thou shalt together with us have even such a robe as this, and such brightness of glory.”
And these words spoken, the youth returned to himself again; and taking comfort from the vision, chased far from him all temptation, confessed his fault before the guardian and the brothers, and from thenceforth desired the roughness of penitence and of dress, and ended his days in the Order in great sanctity.
Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, returned time and again to the story of the Widow’s mite.
” The man who counted the collection judged the widow by the mites and said to himself, ‘Two mites! What’s the good of that?”
“Our Lord understood all the widow’s brave life and humble sacrifice, and His judgement was, ‘She has given MORE than anyone else.’ Well now, there are ‘mites’ of penitence, and ‘mites’ of spiritual capacity. ‘She has done what she could,’ He said of another, who only cried and washed His feet. You see, he understood her, and he understands you and me.
“God bless and keep and guide you, my dear child.”
From The Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, p 210.
So Brother Masseo departed, and according to the bidding of Saint Francis carried his message first unto Saint Clare and then unto Brother Silvester.
Who, when he had heard thereof, forthwith fell on his knees in prayer, and as he prayed received answer from God, and turned to Brother Masseo, and bespake him thus: “Thus saith the Lord: Say unto Brother Francis that God has not called to gain to this estate for himself alone, but to the souls’ end that he may gain fruit of souls, and that many through him may be saved.”
With this reply Brother Masseo returned to Saint Clare to learn what she had received of God, and she answered that God had sent to her and her companions the same reply as He had given to Brother Silvester. Whereat Brother Masseo hied him back again to Saint Francis; and Saint Francis received him with exceeding great love, washing his feet and making ready for him the meal, and after he had eaten, Saint Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood ; and there kneeled down before him and drew back his hood, stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him: What has my Lord Jesu Christ commanded that I should do?
Replied Brother Masseo : “As unto Brother Silvester, so likewise unto Sister Clare and her sisters, has Christ made answer and revealed; that it is His will that thou go throughout the world to preach, since He hath chosen thee not for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others.”
And then Saint Francis, when he had heard this answer and known thereby the will of Jesu Christ, rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men.
Illustration from an old edition of the Little Flowers from which this text is taken.
I T befell on a day that a certain young man caught many turtle-doves : and as he was carrying them for sale, Saint Francis, who had ever a tender pity for gentle creatures, met him, and looking on those turtle-doves with pitying eyes, said to the youth: “I pray thee give them me, that birds so gentle, unto which the Scripture likeneth chaste and humble and faithful souls, may not fall into the hands of cruel men that would kill them.” Forthwith, inspired of God, he gave them all to Saint Francis ; and he receiving them into his bosom, began to speak tenderly unto them:
“O my sisters, simple-minded turtle-doves, innocent and chaste, why have ye let yourselves be caught ? Now would I fain deliver you from death and make you nests, that ye may be fruitful and multiply, according to the commandments of your Creator.” And Saint Francis went and made nests for them all: and they abiding therein, began to lay their eggs and hatch them before the eyes of the brothers: and so tame were they, they dwelt with Saint Francis and all the other brothers as though they had been fowls that had always fed from their hands, and never did they go away until Saint Francis with his blessing gave them leave to go.
And to the young man who had given them to him, Saint Francis said: “My little son, thou wilt yet be a brother in this Order and do precious service unto Jesu Christ. And so it came to pass; for the said youth became a brother and lived in the Order in great sanctity,
Once again we see how a sense of humour was essential for living with Saint Francis, and how the community balanced its loyalty to Francis and loyalty to Brother Masseo.
SAINT FRANCIS, desiring to humble Brother Masseo, to the end that he might not be lifted up to vain glory by the many gifts and graces that God gave him, but by virtue of humility might grow therewith from virtue unto virtue, on a time when he abode in a solitary
place with those true saints, his first companions, (among the which was the said Brother Masseo), spake on a day to Brother Masseo, before all his companions:
“O Brother Masseo, all these thy companions have the grace of contemplation and of prayer; but thou hast the grace of preaching the word of God, for the satisfying of the people : wherefore to the end that these may be able to give themselves up to contemplation, I will that thou perform the office of the door and of alms- giving and of the kitchen ; and when the other brothers eat, thou shalt eat without the door of the House; so that whosoever shall come to the house, thou mayst satisfy them, ere they knock, with some good words of God ; so that then none other need go out save thee; and this do for the merit of holy obedience.”
Therewith Brother Masseo drew back his hood and bent his head, and humbly received that obedience, and continued therein for many days performing the office of the door and of alms-giving and of the kitchen. Whereat his companions, as men enlightened of God, began to feel in their hearts great remorse, considering that Brother Masseo was a man of great perfection, even as they and more so, and that on him was laid all the burden of the House and not on them. For the which cause they all were moved with one desire, and gat them to the holy father and besought him that it would please him to distribute among them those offices, sith their consciences could in no wise endure that Brother Masseo should bear the burden of such toil.
Hearing this, Saint Francis yielded him unto their counsels, and granted their desire; and calling Brother Masseo, said unto him: “Brother Masseo, thy companions desire to have share in the offices that I have given thee, and therefore I will that the said offices be divided.”
Quoth Brother Masseo with great humility and patience: “Father, whate’er thou
dost lay on me, or wholly, or in part, I deem it altogether done of God.”
Then Saint Francis, beholding their loving kindness and the humility of Brother Masseo, preached unto them a marvellous sermon on holy humility ; setting forth unto them that the greater the gifts and graces that God giveth us, the more humble should we be, as without humility no virtue is acceptable to God. And done preaching, he distributed the offices with love exceeding great.